The area of Nicaragua is 50,193 sq. mi. The Nicaraguan highlands, with a
elevation about 2000 ft, cross Nicaragua from the northwest to the southeast.
Several mountain ranges, the highest of which, the Cordillera Isabelia, reaches
an elevation of more than 6890 ft, cut the highlands from east to west. In the
west is a great basin, or depression, containing two lakes, Nicaragua, the
largest in Central America, and Managua. The two are connected by the Tipitapa
River. A chain of volcanoes, which are a contributory cause of local
earthquakes, rises between the lakes and the Pacific coast. In the east, the
Caribbean coastal plain known as the Costa de mosquitoes (Mosquito Coast)
extends some 45 mi. inland and is partly overgrown with rain forest. The four
principal rivers, the San Juan, Coco (Wanks), Grande, and Escondido, empty into
the Caribbean.

The natural resources of Nicaragua are primarily agricultural. Deposits of
volcanic material have enriched the soil, which is extremely fertile. About
half the land is covered with forests. The country has some deposits of gold,
silver, and copper.

About 77% of the Nicaraguan population is mestizo (people of mixed white and
Native American descent), about 10% is white, and the remainder is Native
American (4%) and black (9%). The population of Nicaragua is 3,745,000,
yielding an overall density about 75 per sq. mi. Approximately 60% of the
population is concentrated in the western part of the country, and more than 55%
is urban.

Political Divisions and Principal Cities

Nicaragua is divided into six regions and three special zones. Managua, with a
population of 682,100, is the capital and commercial center. León is an
important religious and cultural center. Granada is the terminus of the railway
from the main port of entry, Corinto, on the Pacific coast.

Spanish is the official language of Nicaragua. Nearly 90% of the Nicaraguan
people are Roman Catholic; most of the remainder are Protestant.

As in other Latin American countries, the culture of Nicaragua reflects Spanish
cultural patterns, influential since the colonial period, combined with an
ancient Native American heritage. Nicaraguans hold many colorful celebrations
to commemorate local saints\' days and ecclesiastical events. The marimba is
extremely popular, and ancient instruments such as the chirimía (clarinet),
maraca (rattle), and zul (flute) are common in rural areas. Dances from
colonial times survive, as do fine examples of architecture.

The coast of Nicaragua was sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1502, but the
first Spanish expedition, under Gil González Dávila, did not arrive until 1522;
it established several Spanish settlements. A second conquistador, Francisco
Fernández de Córdoba, founded Granada in 1523 and León in 1524.

Nicaragua was governed by Pedrarias Dávila from 1526 to 1531, but later in the
century, following a period of intense rivalry and civil war among the Spanish
conquerors, it was incorporated into the captaincy-general of Guatemala.
Colonial Nicaragua enjoyed comparative peace and prosperity, although
freebooters, notably English navigators such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir
Richard Hawkins, continually raided and plundered the coastal settlements. In
the 18th century the British informally allied themselves with the Miskito—a
Native American people intermarried with blacks—severely challenging Spanish
hegemony. For a period during and after the middle of the century the Mosquito
Coast was considered a British dependency. The so-called Battle of Nicaragua at
the time of the American Revolution, however, ended British attempts to win a
permanent foothold in the country.

Their independence began at the beginning of the 19th century, and Nicaragua
declared itself independent of Spain in 1821. A year later it became part of
the short-lived Mexican empire of Agustín de Iturbide, and in 1823, after
Iturbide\'s downfall, it joined the United Provinces of Central America.

In 1893 a successful revolution brought the Liberal leader José Santos Zelaya to
power. He remained president for the next 16 years, ruling as a dictator.
Zelaya was forced out in 1909, after Adolfo Díaz was elected provisional
president. Following a revolt against his government in 1912, he asked the
United States for military aid to maintain order, and U.S. marines were landed.
According to the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1916, the U.S. paid $3 million to
Nicaragua for the right to build a canal across the country from the Atlantic to
the Pacific Oceans, to lease the Great and Little Corn islands, and to establish
a naval base in the Gulf of Fonseca. The agreement aroused protest in several
Central American countries and resulted in anti-American guerrilla warfare in
Nicaragua. A force of American marines remained in Nicaragua until 1925.
Rebellions began when the marines left, and the American force returned in 1926.
An election was held under American supervision in 1928, and General José María
Moncada, a Liberal,